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The Americanisation of distribution and its limits: the case of the German retail system, 1950-1975

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The change in European distribution systems, exemplified by West Germany, represented a general change from a more cooperative towards a more competitive way of thinking and behaviour in everyday life. Substantial parts of the change towards a more competitive, more dynamic approach can be understood as Americanisation, an adapted and always selective process. Besides, in self-service we find Americanisation in supermarkets. These were no longer within walking distance but situated outside the cities, where customers needed a car in order to shop - a total break with European traditions. Mail-order business learned a lot concerning organisational matters. Channels of Americanisation were mainly travels by managers to the US and brochures, specially written for a distinctive branch of business. Americanisation also had its limits. Wholesale stayed neutral but unchanged. Other sectors, such as the institution of weekly private local markets, or of mobile retailers, resisted stubbornly. Some attempts failed utterly, for instance the attempt to introduce automats on a large scale. Also ignorance occurred: the discounter Aldi failed to recognise American experience in this sector, and consequently had to 'reinvent the wheel'. In spite of failures, ignorance and neutrality we have to acknowledge a wave of Americanisation in retail trade during the boom period of the 1950s which did not start to peter out before the late 1960s.
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Keywords: Americanisation; retail; self-service

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bergen, Norway

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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